Just when Lorain County thought spring was near, Winter Storm Stella made its way into the area Monday night, cancelled classes Tuesday, and caused parking bans and travel warnings.
On the East Coast, the storm-turned-blizzard was expected to drop up to 20 inches of snow on parts of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.
Here at home, the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office issued a level one travel warning, asking residents to stay off roads. The scanner buzzed all day with car slide-offs and spin-outs, as well as branches down under the weight of snow.
We stopped by the Ohio Department of Transportation’s District III office in Oberlin to see how a largely mild season has treated its drivers. You might think less snow equals less work for ODOT, but switching between warm and cold weather equipment can actually be more difficult to deal with than a sustained, snowy winter.
“We’re ready anytime,” said transportation manager Steve Jacoscik as he readied trucks heading out to salt and plow roads. “It’s harder for us to predict what to do. When it’s snowing every day, we know what to do and how to handle it. When it’s 70 degrees in February and then in the teens in March, things get difficult.”
ODOT deploys 15 trucks in Lorain County and has used 10,834 tons of salt annually over the past six years. In 2016, that total was down to just 7,925 tons. The district’s cache can hold up to 6,000 tons.
Additives are mixed with the salt to create moisture, with the temperature outside determining which of three choices are used.
Aqua Salina is for extremely cold conditions in the teens and lower. A combination of brine and beet juice is used for temperatures from 20 to 25 degrees, and brine is used by itself for 25 degrees and warmer.
“When we’re not dealing with snow and ice, we’re doing a lot,” said ODOT public information officer Crystal Neelon. “That can mean clearing out ditches or any number of things. We change tailgates on the truck when temperatures switch, so getting back to the snow equipment can be difficult after a two-week break like we’ve had.”
Drivers usually work 12-hour shifts, but in extreme weather events, those can sometimes extend to 16.
Neelon encouraged travelers to give ODOT’s drivers of space and watch for “wings,” which are pieces added to the sides of trucks to create a wider plow.
“We see a lot of drivers try to pass our trucks,” she said. “They don’t realize how fast conditions can change. You may be on dry pavement right now, but ice can pop up at any time and just a little ways up the road could be whiteout conditions. Our drivers deal with people in a hurry all the time. People even pass on the shoulders and drive into our wings. Our drivers take on an extreme responsibility.”
Amherst street department foreman Jeff Barnes said clearing roadways, for the most part, went off without a hitch for his workers.
“I thought this storm would have a little more to it,” he said. “We did some routine salting, put the plows on, and got everything cleaned up. All the equipment held up very well. We’ve been able to get out and do a lot of street patching this year because of the lack of snow.”
In Wellington, 11-year-old Devan Diedrick used his day off from McCormick Middle School to help out his neighbors on Grand Avenue by shoveling off the sidewalk.
“I woke up at 4 a.m. to have breakfast with my dad,” he said. “When it’s snowy, I see people jogging or riding a bike because they don’t have a car and I just wanted to help them. I’m planning on doing it next time too.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.